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In Psalm 73, Asaph has asked desperate questions of God about the prosperity of the wicked. In Psalm 74, he cries out for help in great distress and asks desperate questions of God about His rejection of His people, evidenced for him by the destruction of the temple.
This psalm is a touching prayer to God to intervene after a great national disaster. That disaster concerns the destruction of God’s sanctuary, the temple, His dwelling place in Jerusalem. The disaster that Asaph describes is in the future, because the temple was built by Solomon in Asaph’s time. Asaph is called a “prophet” by the Lord Jesus when He quotes a word of his from Psalm 78 (Matthew 13:35; Psalms 78:2). It is a prophetic psalm, expressing feelings that are present among the believing remnant at later events.
The Holy Spirit worked in Asaph feelings that the God-fearing has who experience the actual destruction of the temple. We can think of the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. We can also think of the destruction by the Romans in the year 70. Prophetically it is about the destruction by the Assyrians of the temple which – now soon – will be built by the Jews (Daniel 9:27). Of this, the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar is a foreshadowing. All this destruction was a painful experience for the God-fearing Jews. They wondered how God could allow His sanctuary to be so profaned and destroyed.
The disciples of the Lord Jesus – they are a picture of the remnant – are also impressed by the temple. It did not occur to them that this magnificent temple could be destroyed again. In response to their admiration for the building, the Lord foretells its destruction (Matthew 24:1-Exodus :).
We can divide the psalm as follows:
In Psalms 74:1-1 Kings : we hear the complaint about the destruction of the temple.
Psalms 74:12-Esther : mention Who God is and what He has done in the past.
Psalms 74:18-Isaiah : are a prayer to God to remember His people.
The Destroyed Sanctuary
This is the ninth of a total of thirteen psalms that are “a maskil” or “a teaching” or “an instruction” (Psalms 74:1; Psalms 32; 42; 44; 45; 52; 53; 54; 55; 74; 78; 88; 89; 142). For “a maskil”, see further at Psalm 32:1.
For “of Asaph” see at Psalm 50:1.
The God-fearing believer cries out to God “why” He has “rejected” His people “forever” (Psalms 74:1). We ask the question of the “why” of disasters that befall us when we do not understand God’s ways and works. That question can come from a tormented, humble mind, but also from a rebellious mind. Asaph asks this question from a humble mind. His question is not why God has rejected him, because he understands that. His question is why God has “rejected forever” (cf. Psalms 74:10).
The occasion for his question, as the psalm further makes clear, is the destruction of the temple. To the mind of the God-fearing Israelite, the presence of the temple in the midst of the people is the same as God’s presence in their midst. The presence of the temple is necessary to him if God is to dwell in their midst. This thought is justified when the people serve Him, but unjustified when the people forsake Him. Because the people left Him, He had to leave them (Ezekiel 8:3-Numbers :; Ezekiel 9:3Ezekiel 10:3-Numbers :; Ezekiel 10:18-Psalms :Ezekiel 11:22-Isaiah :).
They see in the destruction of the temple that God’s anger has been kindled against them, “the sheep of Your pasture” (cf. Psalms 79:13; Psalms 95:7). That the righteous present themselves to God as the sheep of His pasture increases the tenderness of their appeal to Him. How can the Shepherd of Israel be inflamed in anger against His own sheep whom He provides with pasture, that is, with food? But God’s anger has come upon His people as a whole, and they are part of it. They are part of an ungodly people.
At the same time, in contrast to the ungodly people, the apostate masses, they turn to God with their need. They ask Him to think of them because they are His congregation (Psalms 74:2). This is not about the New Testament church, but about the congregation of Israel. He has purchased that people “of old” (Deuteronomy 32:6; cf. Acts 20:28). Asaph points out to God that He acquired His people many centuries ago to be His own people (Deuteronomy 32:9; Exodus 19:5). It means that this people is a very precious treasure to Him (cf. Matthew 13:44).
Precious means not only precious in value, but there is an emotional attachment to this treasure which makes its value to the owner a multiple of its real value. The value of the children of God to the Lord Jesus lies in the fact that they are a gift of love from the Father to the Son. Thus, the New Testament believers are mentioned seven times in John 17 as those who were given by the Father to the Lord Jesus (John 17:2; John 17:6John 17:6; John 17:9John 17:11; John 17:12John 17:24).
He has redeemed His people from the bondage under which they were enslaved. This redemption happened for a purpose: God wanted a people to live in the midst of them. He therefore brought His people into the land and chose Mount Zion as His dwelling place. There He has dwelled.
And does God not see what has happened to His dwelling place? Let God turn His footsteps to go and see (Psalms 74:3). By presenting it this way, Asaph indicates that God has left His sanctuary. He has to come back to it. Then He can see that His dwelling place is changed in “perpetual ruins”.
This, Asaph says, was done by “the enemy”. The enemy was – as a foreshadowing of what will happen in the end times – Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Then it was the Roman armies led by Titus in 70 AD. And in the near future, toward the end of the great tribulation, it will be the king of the north, or the Assyrian. The enemy “has damaged everything within the sanctuary”. To Asaph, as a singer in the temple, this is unpalatable. He is deeply affected by this in his inner self. His heart is completely attached to that place. How can it be that God did not notice this? Why didn’t He intervene? And why doesn’t He still do something?
The adversaries are not Asaph’s adversaries, but “Your adversaries”, that is, those of God (Psalms 74:4). How they have roared and ranted like drunks in “Your meeting places”. The temple has some places of encounter between God and His people. In the court He meets His people and in the sanctuary the priests. These are holy places where the requirements of holiness are appropriate to Him Who is the Holy One.
“Your meeting places” in Hebrew is mo’ed-eka. The word mo’ed, which means meeting place, also appears in Leviticus 23 and is translated there as “appointed time” (Leviticus 23:2). It means that God invites people to be with Him to have a time of celebration. He determines the place and time, just as we do when we make an appointment and agree on a time and place. The place is the place He has chosen to have His Name dwell there (Psalms 74:7). That is first the tabernacle and later the temple. The time is the time of the feasts of the LORD.
But there is no longer a place to meet God. In the place where it was possible, the nations have set up their idolatrous badges of honor. This is repugnant to the God-fearing Jew (cf. Matthew 24:15). It is as if the idols of the nations had won the victory over the living God. Surely God cannot allow this to go on without punishment.
Asaph suggests to God – as if to convince God of the ruthlessness of the nations – how the enemies have acted with a heart full of hatred and have held nothing, absolutely nothing, sacred. As lumberjacks lifted their “axes in a forest of trees”, so they raided the temple (Psalms 74:5). They have beaten on it ferociously. The ornate carvings were smashed to pieces “with hatchet and hammers” by brute force (Psalms 74:6).
After the destruction, they “have burned Your sanctuary” (Psalms 74:7). The dwelling place of God’s Name they profaned “to the ground”. No profaning act was spared God’s dwelling. Whatever the heathen could think of to cover the dwelling place of God’s Name with defilement, they did.
Today it happens in movies and events that ridicule and slander the Lord Jesus in the most disfiguring way. This takes place under the cloak of freedom of speech, in which nothing is sacred and nothing is spared. In particular, God and Christ are slandered. This goes to the heart and soul of the believer.
Spurgeon (1834-1892) applies Psalm 74 to the way Bible critics try to destroy the church with their false teachings. This has not turned to the better since his time. For example, the existence of hell as the place of eternal pain for those who will not submit to God’s command to repent is questioned with some regularity. The opponents of the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment get a stage in church or via Christian media and are allowed to smash with hatchet and hammers.
When we look at marriage, we see that here too the enemy destroys God’s intention with regular hammer blows. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only form of society established and recognized by God in which sexuality may be experienced. However, what do we see happening in and through the church? The church has raised the rainbow flag as evidence of the victory that gay relationships can also be consecrated.
The Lord’s Supper, instituted by the Lord Jesus, is a meal of remembrance for the members of His spiritual body, the church. It is celebrated in His house, also a picture of the church. It is open to all of God’s children, provided that someone is not living in sin and does not have a false doctrine about Christ and God’s Word. However, what happens in God’s house? Anyone who wants to may partake of the sacrament. It is said: ‘You are welcome as you are, as you feel, and however you live.’ The sign of the unity and solidarity of those who belong to God’s church has become a sign to which everyone is free to attach their own (meaningful) meaning.
All of this, and much more, all the destructive teachings and practices that have been introduced into the church, go through marrow and bone to the believer who has a living relationship with the Lord Jesus. He shares in God’s pain over it. Instead of crying out to God to put an end to this through judgment, he will beg God for perseverance to remain faithful to His Word himself.
Then we are true followers of the Lord Jesus. He has borne witness to the truth in meekness and has not threatened retribution (John 18:22-Isaiah :; John 19:9-1 Kings :; 1 Peter 2:23). In doing so, He has felt the reproach that was done to His God as His own (Romans 15:3).
Asaph, by the Spirit’s enlightenment, even knows the deliberations of the heart of God’s enemies (Psalms 74:8). They proceed according to a pre-made plan. What they do not say out loud, they carry out in malice. They plunder and burn God’s dwelling place, which is the temple. In the end times they will also burn God’s meeting places in the land, the synagogues. If God allows this, it is because He wants to eradicate all orthodox, lifeless form worship. To Him, orthodox Judaism has no value. For this purpose God uses a terrible disciplinary rod: Assyria (Isaiah 7:17; Isaiah 10:5).
The Silence of God
The God-fearing remnant, whose feelings Asaph expresses, no longer see their signs, by which they see that God is with them (Psalms 74:9). By this they mean that the temple has disappeared with the altar and the priestly service. There is also “no longer any prophet”, someone who can comfort and encourage them in their circumstances on behalf of God or make God’s will known to them about the way they should go. To the vexing question of “how long” this situation is to last, no one can answer, for no one knows (cf. Acts 1:6-Judges :).
The Lord Jesus speaks of a sign that answers the question of ‘how long’: “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matthew 24:30-Obadiah :).
The remnant also connects the question of “how long” with the reproach the adversary puts on God (Psalms 74:10). The question implies, besides a question about time, also faith. There is faith that one day the defamation of God will come to an end. Surely it cannot be that the enemy will blaspheme God’s name “forever”? We know that God limits that time to three and a half years (Revelation 13:5; Matthew 24:22). The time of the abominable performance of the king of the north is even shorter, for that performance takes place at the end of the great tribulation.
The big question that continues to occupy the remnant is “why” God does withdraw His hand, even His right hand (Psalms 74:11). God’s hand represents God’s action. God’s right hand represents His acting in power. Why doesn’t He act forcefully against the defamation of His holy Name? Isn’t He all-knowing and all-powerful? Because He has withdrawn His strong right hand from His people, He has given the enemy a free hand. This they do not understand.
But they have the deep conviction that God is mighty and retains control over everything. Therefore, they call upon Him to bring out His hand from His bosom, where He has hidden His hand (cf. Exodus 4:6). He must let His hand come forth and put an end to all slander and blasphemy. The question is to “destroy [them]!” With this the believing remnant says to God that He has to destroy the enemy once and for all. This will indeed put an end to all slander and blasphemy. This corresponds to the prayer of the remnant: “Hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).
After the complaint and the questions, suddenly the certainty of victory breaks through. That certainty is substantiated by what God has done in the past. It is now not a common memory, as in Psalms 74:9 for example, but a personal memory. The believer who suffers with God’s people finds in his personal relationship with God a certainty that cannot be undone by the disastrous condition of God’s people.
He confesses from the depths of his heart: “Yet God is my king from of old” (Psalms 74:12). It is the certainty that God sits on the throne and governs everything. Nothing gets out of hand for Him. That applies to His people as a whole as well as to the individual members. The latter aspect is of primary importance here. It is not a general confession that God is King, but He is “my king”.
That He is my King “from of old”, means from the birth of Israel, when Israel was delivered from Egypt (Psalms 74:13; cf. Exodus 15:18). At the same time it points to the eternal kingship of God (Psalms 10:16). It is the realization that God has always had supremacy, but that now the believer also involves this in his own life.
Therefore, it is not a general profession of faith, but an expression of personal faith when the believer says of God that He “works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth”. It is the conviction that not evil has the last word, but God. He will give His people as a whole and the individual believer the full blessing of salvation in the realm of peace.
When God brings salvation here on earth, His eternal kingship is revealed in time (“of old”) and place (“earth”). The thought is: the God Who worked redemption then, would He not be able to redeem now? After all, He is the God Who created the earth in the beginning (Psalms 74:16). He, the Creator and the Redeemer, would He not be able to redeem now? In Revelation 4 and 5 we find the same connection between the Creator and the Redeemer (Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:5-Judges :Revelation 5:9; cf. Romans 8:32).
The faith of the God-fearing sees the convincing evidence of the power of God in the history of God’s people. Many times God has demonstrated His power in the deliverance of His people. This redemptive, liberating action of God in the past guarantees that He is able to do so again, in their situation. Asaph holds before God, as it were, some of the proofs of the exercise of His power. In doing so, he repeatedly emphasizes that it was He, “You”, Who did it.
The first evidence is the revelation of His power at the dividing of the Red Sea (Psalms 74:13). He says to God, “You” did that. The dividing of the sea, with the water becoming like a wall, only God can do (Exodus 14:21-Song of Solomon :; Exodus 15:8). This is an unparalleled wonder of God and proves His dominion over nature. What is the way of deliverance for Israel is the way of breaking “the heads of the sea monsters in the waters” – this is a picture of the Egyptians (Ezekiel 32:2). The Egyptians all perished in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:26-Hosea :).
God has “crushed the heads of Leviathan” (Psalms 74:14). The many-headed monster is also a reference to Egypt, but then more emphatically to the power behind it, which is the devil (cf. Job 41:1; Job 41:6; Psalms 104:26; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Revelation 13:2). Asaph expresses the complete humiliation of this enemy by saying that God “gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness”. He is not buried – which may be a reference to the dead Egyptians on the shore of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:30) – but given for food to the wilderness dwellers, the wild animals.
After the example of the destruction of the enemy follows the example of God’s care for His people after their deliverance (Psalms 74:15). This also shows His omnipotence. Who can supply water to a people of millions in the wilderness? No one, except God. Who can bring this people out of the wilderness into the promised land, through an ever-flowing river, the Jordan? No one but God. God demonstrates His power in favor of His people in His authority over creation. He gives His people water for refreshment and dries up waters that seem to hinder the progress of His people toward the promised blessing (cf. Zechariah 10:11).
God has authority over creation because He is its Creator and also its Sustainer (Hebrews 1:2-Leviticus :). “The day” and “the night” (Psalms 74:16) remind us of day one of the six days of creation. That’s when God created the light (Genesis 1:3-Deuteronomy :). It also reminds us of day four. That’s when God created the sun (Genesis 1:14-Psalms :).
Asaph – and in him the God-fearing in the end times, and also we who live in the end times – confess with all his heart that both “the day” and “the night” are God’s property. In application, “the day” refers to prosperity and “the night” to adversity. Both are in God’s hand. In the realm of peace there will be no more night (Revelation 21:25), for “the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun” (Isaiah 30:26).
Heathen can oppress and drive out God’s people and destroy God’s sanctuary. However, this does not change God’s government over creation, His judgment over His enemies, or His redemption of His people. He determines the day and He determines the night for His people and for the heathen (cf. Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 60:1-Exodus :; Matthew 4:16). As long as God maintains day and night, He will not break the covenant with His people (Jeremiah 33:21-Song of Solomon :).
GOD has “prepared the light and the sun”. The light shines in the darkness. The Lord Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12; John 1:4-Deuteronomy :). He, the light, reveals how dark the world is. This darkness is not only there because of the absence of light, but it is a darkness that is present within man. Therefore man is not able to perceive the light. Therefore, God had to send a man, John the baptist, to testify of the light (John 1:6-1 Samuel :).
The Lord Jesus, Who is the light, also reveals Who God is: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him]” (John 1:18). That revelation is to give those who have accepted Him the right to become children of God (John 1:12), allowing them to address God with “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15-Nehemiah :; Galatians 4:6).
Christ is also the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2). The realm of peace is a realm of light because the Lord Jesus will shine there as the Sun of righteousness. Just as the sun has dominion over the day, He has dominion in the realm of peace.
In His omnipotence and wise policy, God “established all the boundaries of the earth” (Psalms 74:17; cf. Acts 17:26). God did this with Israel as the starting point and center (Deuteronomy 32:8). In doing so, the God-fearing also refers to God’s covenant with Noah. This covenant is based on the burnt offering Noah brought on an earth cleansed by the flood (Genesis 8:20-Song of Solomon :). The realm of peace is a kingdom cleansed by judgment. All the blessing God gives in the realm of peace is grounded in Christ’s sacrifice for God.
O God, Plead Your Own Cause
After the confession of the certainty that God reigns in the previous verses, the remnant continues to pray to God again (Psalms 74:18). They cry out to God to remember that the enemy has “reviled” the LORD. God will not let this go unpunished. His Name has been blasphemed by “a foolish people”, that is, the nations (Deuteronomy 32:21). The nations are foolish because they have no regard for God at all (Psalms 14:1; Psalms 53:1).
The remnant, with this call, is showing that ultimately it is not about them, but about the LORD. LORD is His covenant name. The call to God to remember this testifies to their relationship with Him. God wants His own to call upon Him with reference to Who He is and what He has promised (cf. Isaiah 62:6-Judges :; Ezekiel 36:37).
The remnant sees the nations as wild beasts, as wolves in the midst of whom they are like sheep (Psalms 74:19). In the face of these tearing animals, they speak to the LORD of themselves as “Your turtledove” (cf. Psalms 68:13). The turtledove is a fragile and faithful bird. The remnant is aware of its vulnerability. A turtledove has no natural weapons as a defense against predators. The remnant is also aware of their faithfulness to God and knows that He sees them as a defenseless and faithful dove (Song of Solomon 2:14). Therefore, they ask Him not to forget them “forever” after all. After all, they are “Your afflicted”. They are in miserable circumstances because they are His property. In their circumstances they feel forgotten by Him (Isaiah 49:14).
First the psalmist thought of the power of God as Creator and also of His love and care as Redeemer. Then he thought of the honor of the Name of God. The Name of God was dishonored by the enemy, while the remnant is but weak. Therefore, the psalmist now appeals to the covenant (Psalms 74:20) and asks God to arise and take action (Psalms 74:22).
The remnant reminds God through the psalmist of “the covenant” (Psalms 74:20). Let Him behold it and act accordingly. When He beholds His covenant and then looks at “the dark places of the land”, He must see how much it contrasts with the light of His covenant. For “He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22). In that all-discovering light, surely He sees that those dark places ”are full of the habitations of violence” against Him and His own.
The God-fearing further ask God not to let “the oppressed” return ashamed (Psalms 74:21). That is what happens when God sends the prayer back home without paying attention. On the contrary, let God hear “the afflicted and needy” and deliver them from their enemies. The result will be that they will praise His Name.
The remnant cries out to God to arise and plead – not their cause, but – His own cause (Psalms 74:22). When God arises, the enemies must flee. That clears the way for God’s people to inherit the blessing. The cause concerns the defamation that fools inflict on God “all day long”, which is the period when the Assyrians, the king of the north, enter the land and rage against people and buildings with unprecedented violence.
The psalm does not end with praise, because the tribulation is not yet over (Psalms 74:23). God has not yet accomplished His purpose with His people. The God-fearing person calls upon God once again not to “forget the voice of Your adversaries” (cf. Psalms 74:19). Surely He has not forgotten the cries of those who rise against Him, had He? After all, it “ascends continually”.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 74". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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